Kai e scotia auto ou katalaben. And the darkness comprehended it not. Like the English word “comprehend” the Greek katalaben has two meanings – to understand and to overcome. The Greek is an intensive of the verb to grasp, to hold on to, to get. We can say, “I get it” and mean I understand it, or “I’ve got it” meaning I’ll grab the fly ball.
Darkness cannot grasp light. Spiritual darkness cannot understand spiritual light; spiritual darkness cannot overcome spiritual light. The consensus of the biblical scholars is that St. John’s gospel was written down about 60 to 70 years after the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. The older I get the shorter that seems. The gospel offers us the reflections of the apostle’s long life on the meaning of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, John affirms that Jesus is the eternal Word of God. John tells us that after his resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples. Thomas was the first of many who have said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” John’s gospel begins as Genesis does, “In the beginning . . .”
Over 300 later, after much theological controversy the spiritual leaders of the community of Jesus met in northern Turkey and agreed that Jesus Christ is “truly God and truly man.” (BCP 864).
The whole gospel of John and our Christian lives are an extended meditation on Thomas’s affirmation of faith to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” What do we mean when we affirm that Jesus is our God? How does our life witness to our affirmation that he is our Lord?
John says that Jesus is the light that shined in darkness. And the darkness comprehended it not. First, comprehend as understand: We who are enlightened by the Holy Spirit find it hard to understand God’s love for and in the world he has made. The metaphors of light and life help us. We experience light and darkness, life and death, before we have words for them.
We are surrounded by light; almost always there is enough light for us to see our way. We live in a 3rd floor corner apartment at Deerfield. When I get up in the middle of the night the street lamps offer enough light for me to see my way. On a trip to Sinai we camped one night in the desert; there the stars of the Milky Way provided enough light to see our way.
Despite all our increased knowledge in the science of the beginning of life and medicine’s art and science to cure disease and increase the length of life, both the beginning and the end of life are not ours to control. We know ourselves to be alive, and we also know the loss in the death of those we love. We also know something of the loss of relationships brought to an end by sins of all kinds. And by God’s grace we also have some experience of the new life that can come in repentance and forgiveness.
When we look seriously and honestly at our lives we can see the areas of darkness where the light of Christ shines dimly, and we can see spiritual darkness in our society. Surveys show increasing scriptural illiteracy; larger and larger tears appear in the common fabric of social morality; individual, group, and national self-interest seems to have a higher priority than concerns of peace and justice.
In August 1914 as World War One was beginning British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Gray said, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” After that war came depression, totalitarian governments, another world war, and the cold war. After the fall of Communism has come ideological / religious conflicts. Lamps flicker and many have been extinguished in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
But like the stars in the Sinai desert, Christ’s light continues to shine. Even in the spiritual darkness of a post-Christian Europe new light is being kindled. Trust is institutions, including the organized church, diminishes, but new Christian communities are born and grow. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend it – cannot understand it, but also cannot overcome it.
In a Japanese prison in the Philippines some 70 years ago American women missionaries made a small chapel. On the wall they hung a crucifix and at Christmas placed under it a creche of scraps of wood and cloth. A guard pointed at the cross and asked, “Who’s that?” “Jesus.” Then he pointed at the figure of the baby in the manger and asked, “Who’s that?” “Jesus.” He put his hands together, bowed, and said, “So sorry.” Unlike the guard who did not comprehend, we are not sorry, but glad, glad with the remembrance of the birth of our Saviour, for “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
We are children of God, children of light, children of life. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” This week and in the year to come, let us live out who we are by God’s grace, and show forth his glory in the world he has redeemed. Amen.